So, since I could identify with the victim, that’s what I did. And I was able to do that for a long time because I myself had sometimes been a victim – not nearly as bad off as the victim in the parable – but there have been times in my life when not only have I been a victim, but I’ve also been the receiver of help from someone else, someone I wouldn’t have expected, who helped me.
My bet is that most of us here, maybe all of us, can identify with the victim. Maybe there have been times when you didn’t have enough money for the things you needed, struggling to keep it together. But it could be anything. I don’t know your circumstances, but has anyone here ever been in situations where you really could have used a helping hand? I’ll bet so! Did you ever get a helping hand when you really needed it – at least once? I thought so. And I’d bet that many of you, most of you, maybe all of you, have been the Good Samaritan to others who needed your help. Well, over time, that’s how I began to understand what a good Samaritan was, even though I did not know the definition of the word, Samaritan.
Jesus does not tell us why the Levite and priest did not stop to help the poor victim. Maybe they were on their way to a meeting. Maybe they had to pick up some groceries, or a prescription, I don’t know. The point is, though, that in this parable Jesus is telling us a couple of things that will lead to one key point.
The scholar in our tale asked Jesus, “Who is our neighbor?” He was looking to Jesus to put some limits on just who we need to consider a neighbor. He was expecting something like this: “Those people over there? Yes, they’re neighbors. But, those folks over there, no, you don’t need to worry about them”. In other words, the scholar was asking who we need to support and who we are free to reject. And Jesus tells him in his own way that that’s the wrong question. Remember, the Samaritan didn’t ask the victim before he helped him, “Excuse me, are you my neighbor?” No, he saw the victim as a fellow human being who needed help, quite badly and urgently. That’s all he cared about. Jesus is suggesting that what matters is that we BE the neighbor because the TRUE neighbor does not ask who my neighbor is in the first place. Because, for Jesus the true neighbor, the one who is close to God, knows that real love has no boundaries and that all people, all of humanity, are neighbors. And that includes our enemies. Jesus is telling us that there is no one we can scratch off our list, there is no one we can ignore, no one who doesn’t fit in somehow. We don’t get to pick and choose. And that’s because God designed us for love without reservation.
The Good Samaritan is actually a kind of reflection of Jesus, who himself loved and loves unconditionally, and he’s telling us that we can love God all we want, but it’s not true love or worship if that love is not somehow translated into the service of others. And it’s not just here, but anywhere we go.
Alright, that’s all fine and well, but what does that look like in practical terms?
Well, first of all, I want to say that you don’t have to give money to every stranger you see on the street. That might be dangerous, and besides, some of them are professionals at that, and you won’t know that because they ARE professionals. And besides, in this city there are many institutions set up to provide goods and services to help those who need them. We have our own food closet here in this very building.
And I should say that all of us should exercise some prudence when and where we are confronted with certain needs. Most of us aren’t trained to deal with highly complex issues – like medical – and we should not step in when it’s better for someone much more properly trained to handle it.
And also, remember that the good Samaritan had the means and resources to do what he did. Many of us would not be able to do what he did. You do what you can, as appropriate to your circumstances.
So, what’s a person to do? Well, at bare minimum there IS something you can do that will at least be a blessing for all with whom you come into contact. I once knew a priest – he’s dead now – but he was fond of giving the advice that we should bless people as we see them, and as we become aware of them and of their needs. He told me to bless them with my eyes – turn my simple seeing of others into a prayer, an act of blessing, regardless of who the people are, silently wishing them well and asking God’s blessing upon them.
We may not be able to do what the Good Samaritan did – that wasn’t easy even for him who knew what he was doing and had the resources to do it – but the point is that looking at our fellow human beings with love and respect, and a desire that God bless them and come into their lives, if he isn’t there already, and if he is, well, to bless them more. In this way, EVERY one can become our neighbor and we’ve made no distinction like who is on and off my list. You’re all on it! And, let me say this: I’ve given you a lot of outs today and I do not want to minimize the fact that at times we are called by God to stretch way beyond our comfort levels in helping others. Sometimes he calls us to a radical trust in him, and we have to be prepared to respond to that. I can’t tell you what that will look like, but I will tell you that you can expect it.
So, here’s a bit of homework for you today. At some point today, whether it’s driving home, or you’re going for a walk, or going shopping, as you’re moving toward your destination, simply, intentionally, and silently, bless the others you see with your eyes. Ask God to accept all you see as your request for his blessing on them. That’ll be one small way to expand how you define and act on what a neighbor really is.